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CLEGourmand: Hot Sauce Williams and The Polish Boy

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 14, 2010

Hot Sauce Williams and The Polish Boy sounds like the title of a Tom Petty song or the next Tarantino action farce. Not so. These are two quintessential Cleveland food experiences. Fortunately for me I was able to find one with the other. There are plenty of Polish boys in Cleveland. There are also plenty of places which serve a sandwich by the same name. The Polish Boy base is a hot dog bun heaped with the following: Polish sausage/kielbasa (grilled or fried), a layer of French Fries, barbeque or hot sauce and a mound of cole slaw. A Polish Girl takes the same and adds a pile of pork shoulder. Now that is the type of girl I would like to get my hands on. The problem is these sandwiches are too messy to manhandle so one must endure the unmanly humiliation of eating with a fork, knife, fingers or combination thereof while constantly wiping body parts with wet naps.

The Polish Boy has received a lot of attention but not just for it’s heart attack inducing qualities. Michael Symon profiled it on the Food Network. The version Chef Symon choose was from Seti’s which also adds chili and cheese to the sandwich (the gods of massive consumption salute you Seti’s). Polish Boys have popped up in Esquire many times. Adam Richman tried one at Hot Sauce Williams. So did I.

Who is this Hot Sauce Williams? Well, it is now several restaurants not a person. In 1964, five brothers with almost no food service experience decided to buy a restaurant from a barber. Their no-name carry out operation quickly became hot, serving open pit, Mississippi-style ribs. The hot sauce was memorable and the name of the family was Williams so the neighbors called it Hot Sauce Williams. The brothers quickly opened more restaurants while their food fueled a BBQ renaissance and fed a growing blues and soul music scene in a city that is over fifty percent African American. Their menu serves up Southern comfort food classics: long and short ribs, okra, macaroni and cheese, fried fish and chicken dinners.

The place has been visited by celebrities long before the Food Network but nothing about the experience has changed. There is still a simple approach to serving here – styrofoam everything, plasticware and lots of napkins. Clean your table and pitch your trash if you eat in. The location I tried was on Lee Road, a byway I have renamed Chicken Row because you can throw a telltale rib bone in any direction and hit a rib joint, chicken shack or some type of sauced meat purveyor. I felt like an insider sliding into the Lee Road Hot Sauce Williams, it has the aura of a dive and the feel of one too. That is essential to good BBQ.

Was the food good? Absolutely! Was the experience authentic? Yes! Eating at 1 AM felt a little dangerous and seedy. The most memorable part of my meal was….the hot sauce. It is thick and dense with a molasses consistency. No matter how hard and frequently you wipe and wash during the frenzy of eating, you will find sauce on your hands and elsewhere the next day. It never leaves you. Ever.

3770 Lee Road
Cleveland
216.921.4704

Bourdain goes to Hot Sauce Williams (Carnegie Ave) with Michael Symon

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